Category Archives: Wage

Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy

As someone who has been a union member since I was a Marine with the American Servicemen’s Union until I retired last year as a Teamster as well as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, I have lived the reality of mistreatment of workers in the United States.

It is good to see labor rising with teacher and other strikes increasing across the country and with the US public showing its highest support for unions in decades. The next president should harness the energy of working people and build political power for a transformation agenda for working people who have not gotten a real raise in decades, while executives and investors have been getting rich off of higher rates of exploitation with increased productivity and globalized markets and corporate-managed trade deals that enable global corporations to pit the working classes of different countries against each other in a race to the bottom.

Urgent Reforms Needed, Time to Transform the Workplace

The centerpiece of my campaign for president is an ecosocialist Green New Deal. Responding to the climate crisis is going to require changes to many sectors of the economy. We need to create a new democratic and ecological economy. We must define this economy with the rights of workers in mind, not only their right to collective bargaining but the need to make workers into owners to end the capitalist crisis highlighted by the reality that three people have wealth equal to 50 percent of the population.

We need social and cooperative ownership where workers receive the full value of their labor. Now we are exploited. We get a fixed wage and all the surplus value we create with our work is taken by capitalists as profits simply because they own the company, not because they did any work.

The Green New Deal requires the United States to reconstruct all economic sectors for ecological sustainability, from agriculture and manufacturing to housing and transportation. This means millions of new jobs in a democratized economy where some sectors are nationalized, others are controlled by state and municipal government and more are re-made into cooperatives that are worker-owned.

A Green New Deal must include a Just Transition, which means income to compensate all workers whose jobs are eliminated by steps taken to protect the environment. Displaced workers should be guaranteed up to five years of their previous income and benefits as they make the transition to alternative work.

As part of the Green New Deal, I am calling for an Economic Bill of Rights, which includes a job guarantee and a guaranteed minimum income above poverty for all. The housing crisis will be alleviated with the institution of universal rent control and expansion of public housing in walkable communities with access to regional mass transit. Air and water pollution will be relieved by putting in place a 100% electrified transportation system emphasizing freight rails, high-speed inter-city rails, and urban light-rail mass transit, with electric powered cars and trucks where they are still needed.

A crash program of federal government investment and public enterprises to rebuild our economy for zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030 will create full employment and shared prosperity. But not everyone is able to work. And some things should be human rights, not commodities you can only get if you have enough money. That’s why we need a social safety net of social services funded publicly, not privately out of pocket. That means a national health service for universal health care, lifelong free public education, student debt relief, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. The ecosocialist Green New Deal is a plan to remake the economy so that it serves the people and protects the ecology and the climate. Those objectives require a socialist economic democracy so that we the people–not big business interests–have the power to choose economic justice and ecological sanity.

Immediate Reforms For Working People

In addition to changes coming as a result of putting in place an ecosocialist Green New Deal, we need are immediate labor law reforms.

Repeal Repressive Labor Laws: Repeal the sections of the Taft-Hartley Act, the Landrum-Griffin Act, the Hatch Act, and state “Right-To-Work” laws that have crippled labor’s ability to organize by outlawing or severely restricting labor’s basic organizing tools: strikes, boycotts, pickets, and political action. This should include putting in place Card Check which extends union bargaining status to majority sign-up or card-check recognition.

A Workers’ Bill of Rights: Enact a set of legally enforceable civil rights, independent of collective bargaining. This should include:

(1) Extending the Bill of Rights protections of free speech, association, and assembly into all workplaces.

(2) Establishes workers’ rights to living wages, portable pensions, information about chemicals used, report labor and environmental violations, refuse unsafe work, and participate in enterprise governance. OSHA must be funded adequately to protest workers and communities and workers empowered to enforce safety and health regulations. Retirement should include a mandatory system of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts that provide a return of at least 3 percent above inflation guaranteed by the federal government.

(3) Establishes workers’ rights to freedom from discharge at will, employer search and seizure in the workplace, sexual harassment, and unequal pay for work of comparable worth. These rights should ensure that workers can take legal action to stop wage theft. In addition to a living wage, workers should have subsidized, high quality child care and elder care. Workers should receive six weeks of paid vacation annually in addition to federal holidays. For every seven years worked, they should receive one year of paid educational leave and one year of parental leave for each child with no loss of seniority.

Employer Accountability: There must be strong and speedy penalties for employers who break labor laws. In addition, federal law needs to ban striker replacements, provide triple back pay for illegally locked-out workers, and there must be unemployment compensation for striking and locked-out workers.

Labor Law Protections for Farm workers: Extend to farm workers the same rights under labor law as other workers, including A Day of Rest, Overtime Pay, Collective Bargaining Protections, Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Child Labor Protections, and Occupational Safety and Health Standards.

Labor Law Protections for Prisoners: Enact legislation to end the super-exploitation of prison labor at pennies per hour, which undercuts the wages of workers outside the prison system. The prison labor system as it exists now is akin to slavery and the prison labor camps in other authoritarian countries. Work done by prisoners can be part of rehabilitation and enable prisoners to acquire job skills, support their families, and have savings upon release. Work done by prisoners for private contractors and for public works and services should be paid prevailing wages. Prison workers should have all the protections of labor law, including the right to organize unions.

Fair Trade: Trade deals should be rewritten to uplift labor and environmental standards across borders. Fair trade pacts should eliminate secretive trade tribunals to which only governments and corporations have access. Trade disputes should be adjudicated in public courts to which workers, unions, and public have access.

It is time to correct the decades of diminishing worker rights and shrinking unions as well as low-pay. The United States is about to begin a transformation to a clean, sustainable energy future. The new economy we create must prioritize the rights of workers to create an economy that works for the 99 percent, not just the 1 percent.

In the U.S. they are never called human rights violations

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal reflects another significant increase in military spending along with corresponding cuts in spending by Federal agencies tasked with the responsibility for providing critical services and income support policies for working class and poor people. Trump’s call for budget cuts by Federal agencies is mirrored by the statutorily imposed austerity policies in most states and many municipalities. Those cuts represent the continuing imposition of neoliberal policies in the U.S. even though the “A” word for austerity is almost never used to describe those policies.

Yet, austerity has been a central component of state policy at every level of government in the U.S. and in Europe for the last four decades. In Europe, as the consequences of neoliberal policies imposed on workers began to be felt and understood, the result was intense opposition.  However, in the U.S. the unevenness of how austerity policies were being applied, in particular the elimination or reduction in social services that were perceived to be primarily directed at racialized workers, political opposition was slow to materialize.

Today, however, relatively privileged workers who were silent as the neoliberal “Washington consensus” was imposed on the laboring classes in the global South — through draconian structural adjustment policies that result in severe cutbacks in state expenditures for education, healthcare, state employment and other vital needs — have now come to understand that the neoliberal program of labor discipline and intensified extraction of value from workers, did not spare them.

The deregulation of capital, privatization of state functions — from road construction to prisons, the dramatic reduction in state spending that results in cuts in state supported social services and goods like housing and access to reproductive services for the poor — represent the politics of austerity and the role of the neoliberal state.

This materialist analysis is vitally important for understanding the dialectical relationship between the general plight of workers in the U.S. and the bipartisan collaboration to raid the Federal budget and to reduce social spending in order to increase spending on the military. This perspective is also important for understanding the imposition of those policies as a violation of the fundamental human rights of workers, the poor and the oppressed.

For the neoliberal state, the concept of human rights does not exist.

As I have called to attention before, a monumental rip-off is about to take place once again. Both the Democrats and Republicans are united in their commitment to continue to feed the U.S. war machine with dollars extracted — to the tune of 750 billion dollars — from the working class and transferred to the pockets of the military/industrial complex.

The only point of debate is now whether or not the Pentagon will get the full 750 billion or around 733 billion. But whether it is 750 billion or 733 billion, the one sector that is not part of this debate is the public. The attention of the public has been adroitly diverted by the absurd reality show that is Russiagate. But this week, even though the budget debate has been disappeared by corporate media, Congress is set to begin debate on aspects of the budget and specifically on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Raising the alarm on this issue is especially critical at this moment. As tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf, the corporate media is once again abdicating its public responsibility to bring unbiased, objective information to the public and instead is helping to generate support for war with Iran.

The Democrats, who have led the way with anti-Iran policies over the last few decades, will be under enormous pressure not to appear to be against enhancing military preparedness and are likely to find a way to give Trump and the Pentagon everything they want.

Support for Human Rights and Support for Empire is an Irreconcilable Contradiction

The assumption of post-war capitalist order was that the state would be an instrument to blunt the more contradictory aspects of capitalism. It would regulate the private sector, provide social welfare support to the most marginal elements of working class, and create conditions for full employment. This was the Keynesian logic and approach that informed liberal state policies beginning in the 1930s.

The idea of reforming human rights fits neatly into that paradigm.

As seen, a state’s legitimacy was based on the extent to which it recognized, protected and fulfilled the human rights of all its citizens and residents. Those rights included not only the right to information, assembly, speech and to participation in the national political life of the nation but also the right to food, water, healthcare, education, employment, substantial social security throughout life, and not just as a senior citizen.

The counterrevolutionary program of the late 60s and 70s, especially the turn to neoliberalism which began in the 70s, would reject this paradigm and redefine the role of the state. The obligation of the state to recognize, protect and fulfill human rights was eliminated from the role of the state under neoliberalism.

Today the consequences of four decades of neoliberalism in the global South and now in the cosmopolitan North have created a crisis of legitimacy that has made state policies more dependent on force and militarism than in any other time, including the civil war and the turmoil of the 1930s.

The ideological glue provided by the ability of capitalism to deliver the goods to enough of the population which guaranteed loyalty and support has been severely weakened by four decades of stagnant wages, increasing debt, a shrinking middle-class, obscene economic inequality and never-ending wars that have been disproportionately shouldered by the working class.

Today, contrary to the claims of capitalism to guarantee the human right to a living wage ensuring “an existence worthy of human dignity,” the average worker is making, adjusted for inflation, less than in 1973; i.e., some 46 years-ago. 140 million are either poor or have low-income; 80% living paycheck to paycheck; 34 million are still without health insurance; 40 million live in “official poverty;” and more in unofficial poverty as measured by alternative supplemental poverty (SPM).  And more than half of those over 55 years-old have no retirement funds other than Social Security.

In a report, Philp Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, points out that: the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined.

However, that choice in public expenditures must be seen in comparison to the other factors he lays out:

  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.

For African Americans in particular, neoliberalism has meant, jobs lost, hollowed out communities as industries relocated first to the South and then to Mexico and China, the disappearance of affordable housing, schools and hospital closings, infant and maternal mortality at global South levels, and mass incarceration as the unskilled, low-wage Black labor has become economically redundant.

This is the backdrop and context for the budget “debate” and Trump’s call to cut spendings to Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even the State Department.

The U.S. could find 6 trillion dollars for war since 2003 and 16 trillion to bail out the banks after the financial sector crashed the economy, but it can’t find money to secure the human rights of the people.

This is the one-sided class war that we find ourselves in; a war with real deaths and slower, systematic structural violence. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can be depended on to secure our rights or protect the world from the U.S. atrocities. That responsibility falls on the people who reside at the center of the Empire to not only struggle for ourselves but to put a brake on the Empire’s ability to spread death and destruction across the planet.

Marx Still Prevents the Progress of Society

If one searches “theory of alienation” in Google, predominately Marx’s theory comes out because other theories of alienation in a political and economic level do not exist. The question is why? What is so incredible in Marx’s statement that workers get alienated from the products of their labour, which alienates them from themselves? It just does not hold much water because everyone who produces for the market gets alienated from the product at the moment of purchase.

Marx strongly contributed to the scientific understanding of capitalism. He stated that capitalists profit from the production, while their workers only receive a fraction of the capitalist’s profit as wages. Capitalists exploit workers by paying them low earnings. Marx was right about this. He believed that exploitation of workers might be eliminated through socialist revolution only. Marx was wrong here because a violent revolution cannot better society. Although a revolution may replace a certain social injustice, it has always been replaced with a new kind. To ensure the lasting effect of revolutions, new leadership are generally autocratic, and therefore spread alienation throughout society with all the unfavourable dictatorial phenomena that are well-known throughout history. Revolutions have never contributed to the improvement of society as it was desired by people. Marx did not have enough data to be able to build his vision of socialism scientifically. As a result, his vision of socialism failed.

Thanks to social scientists, it is still not known what exactly creates exploitation of workers even though the answer is straightforward – unemployment creates exploitation. Unemployed workers are pressured to accept poorly paid jobs to feed their families. When we eliminate unemployment, we will create a fair market for work. The lack of workers will increase their demand on the market so that employers will have to pay them more. This will create a chain reaction in which workers’ salaries will grow, while employers would still make profits. We may say this would eliminate exploitation. There is no formula which would determine what exploitation is, only workers dissatisfied with their earnings may present it. A fair market of work will remove this dissatisfaction.

The rise in workers’ salaries in the fair market can be proved. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed one-third of the European population which suddenly increased demand for workers. The shortage of workers increased the workers’ wages. At Cuxham (Oxfordshire, England), a plowman demanded from his Lord a payment 3.3 times greater in 1350 than in the previous year (The Economic Impact of the Black Death, Economic History Association). “In Parliament, in 1351 the Commons petitioned Edward III for a more resolute and effective response. They complained that “servants completely disregard the said ordinance in the interests of their ease and greed and that they withhold their services to great men and others unless they have liveries and wages twice or three times as great as [prior to the plague] to the serious damage of the great men and impoverishment of all members of the said commons.””1

According to this, if a political party wins an election offering a reduction of work to 5 hours per day; the lack of workers would increase workers’ salaries 2-3 times per hour in one year. The daily wages would rise 30-90% for just a 5-hour shift. Workers would work shorter hours and earn more. It has already happened, and it is much easier to accomplish than raising a revolution.

So who is going to pay for such an increase in salary? The wealthy employers, of course! Right now they collect this money as profit for themselves. Can employers refuse to increase worker salaries? They can, but then their workers would find a new employer who would pay more, and that means they will lose the possibility to maintain their businesses. When workers earn more they will purchase more which will, in turn, increase the employers’ profits. So, why have we not created a good economy so far? Because the more workers earn, the less they depend on the rich. The rich keep their power in society by maintaining the fear of unemployment. More about it is presented in my article: Let’s remove unemployment.

*****

Marx thought that the market economy caused the exploitation of workers, so he proposed the elimination of the market economy by a centrally planned economy. Marx knew that the elimination of market economy removes the indicators of economic efficiency so he called upon for worker conscience to replace it. It revealed a consistency problem of Marx’s philosophy. Human conscience belongs to idealism and it was never able to improve society because it was never accepted on the social level. The planned economy was supposed to produce goods and services in quality and quantity to satisfy people’s needs. But the leaders have never learned how to gather people’s needs, so they decided it for them. Such economy alienates itself from the people. The socialist economy also deteriorates because revolutions replace experienced entrepreneurs with inexperienced theorists. The socialist ideology overprotects workers while also taking their freedom which does not stimulate them to work enough. The planned economy is not able to make the balance between production and consumption leaving people unsatisfied. As a result, the Marxist’s economy failed to satisfy people’s needs sufficiently.

The planned economy was tried in the USSR and China. It has significantly reduced material exploitation of workers which exists in capitalist countries but also, it decreased the efficiency of the economy. The economy in the USSR and China had much lower productivity than capitalist economies. The USSR collapsed due to the inefficiency of the planned economy. Thus, Marxism failed. China has learned on their own mistakes, abandoned the planned economy in 1980, and accepted the regulated market economy. From that moment it has become the fastest growing economy in the world, threatening to take the number one place soon. This explains everything about the Marxist economy.

Taking into account the failures of Marxism, why does it deserve such a significant presence in science, media, and in hearts of Marxists? It would not be possible without the approval of the owners of corporations. Without it, Marxists would not be able to participate in political elections. Neither would they be able to teach Marxism at universities and get media support. Why do the rich help the Marxist ideology which promotes violent confiscation of their property? The rich simply knew Marxism could not be a threat to capitalism. Otherwise, it would be banned. They knew that Marxism is on the wrong track and support it because Marxism prevents the progress of society. If Marx proposed reducing work hours instead of revolution, his philosophy would not be supported, and hardly anybody would know he has ever existed.

This is how the conspiracy of the rich works. By supporting Marx, the rich have successfully prevented a better society for 100 years. Now capitalists know they cannot cheat people by supporting revolutions and planned economy anymore, but they do not abandon Marxism because a large number of people are romantically and emotionally still connected to Marx. Most Marxists accepted Marx’s ideology when they were young. Youthful rebellion based on dissatisfaction and injustice in society made them easy prey for the manipulation of the rich. The rich hid the cause of the exploitation and promoted Marx’s philosophy as the escape from the problem. Marx made revolution scientifically acceptable, and people acknowledged it through the study of his excessive work.

Marxists recognize the failures of Marxism, but they still believe they need to find the right method to implement Marx’s philosophy correctly. By accepting Marxism they cannot change their opinion significantly anymore, especially not if a simple idea like shorter work hours tries to break it. The rich are masters of deception and Marxists cannot admit they have been deceived. Helped by the rich, Marxists got a strong influence in the political Left and by promoting the ideology which does not work, they help the rich. They are also helping the rich by preventing new left ideas from coming.

*****

This is precisely what has happened to me. I have presented how to create a good society in the book Humanism – A Philosophic-Ethical-Political-Economic Study of the Development of the Society. It is available free of charge online. The book is based on an original theory of alienation. It states that subjectivity alienates us from objective reality. Subjectivity puts us on the wrong path so that we cannot satisfy our needs. The escape from all problems of humankind lies in the building of objective vision of reality. Democratic acceptance of equal human rights will do it. The implementation of equal human rights will solve all social problems. Nothing else we need for building a good social life and nothing else can make it.

Marx was right when he called upon for equal human rights among people, but he did not see the scope of its development. The ultimate stage of equal human rights will create an equal possibility for the employment of every worker at every public work post at any time. It will be necessary to open a permanent competition of workers for every public work post. The best worker would get the right to work at any time. I know it sounds impossible because such a division of labour never existed. But the realization of it is just a technical problem. The system I have developed will effectively evaluate the productivity of work offers, define the job responsibilities of workers, and harmonize rewards for work. In short, the workers who offer the highest productivity and responsibility, and demand the lowest salary will get the job. No economy can be more productive than the one where each job gets the best available worker. Public companies will become more productive than private ones so that the latter will go down in history. Only this should be called socialism. I wrote more about it in the article: The Failures of Marxism and the Right Path to Socialism and Communism.

The market is the best choice for the economy. The market of goods allocates every good to the most capable purchaser who needs and loves it the most. The producers profit from it the most as well. The further development of the market will improve the economy much more. The market of work will eliminate work privileges which will make each job equally demanded. Such a market will allocate every job to the most productive worker who needs and loves it the most. Shorter work hours will eliminate unemployment while less desirable jobs will be compensated with higher incomes. The market will help society to reach the best life possible. I have presented the bright future of humankind also through stories in three screenplays: Good Capitalism, Good Socialism, and Good Communism.

Even if my ideas are wrong, which they are not, my effort deserves to be noticed, but I have experienced a total refusal by media, science, politics, and film industry. The people who hear me offering increasing salaries for shorter work time, which is the first step in developing the economy and society, think it is too good to be true no matter what arguments I give. Public discussion may help, but it is prevented. One of the reasons for that is Marxists do not like my work.

However, the rich cannot hide the truth forever. It will break through one day. Then people will accept the benefits of full employment and request shorter work hours. The rich will resist it, of course, but they cannot win against united people. This will be the hardest part of creating a perfect society.

  1. Michael Bennett, The Impact of the Black Death on English Legal History, Australian Journal of Law and Society, 1995, Page 197.

Robert Owen, Worker Cooperatives, and Democratic Socialism

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) – and its two predecessor organizations, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM) – had their origins in the early 1970s, at the beginning of a long-term rightward shift of United States and global politics. This shift to the right – from the 1980s of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – to the 2016 Donald Trump charade – overshadowed the central role these organizations played in the movements of resistance to corporate domination, as well as in today’s ongoing project: organizing an ideological and organizational socialist presence among trade union, community, feminist and people of color and other activists.

DSA made an ethical contribution to the broader American Left by being one of the few radical organizations born out of a merger rather than a split. DSA also helped popularize the vision of a democratic, ecumenical, multi-tendency socialist organization, an ethos that enabled it to incorporate many thousands of new members, mostly out of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Nevertheless, it was under the leadership of DSA Michael Harrington and his groundbreaking The Other America (1963) that catalyzed the civil rights movement, its leaders and the Kennedy Administrations to prioritize not only issues of race but equal attention to domestic poverty and inequality. This set the stage for Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign.”

The foundations of democratic socialism have its origins in the eighteenth century and the breakdown of feudal Europe, specifically England, where the medieval guilds and the protection of workers’ rights was subsequently replaced as a commodity. The emergence of capitalism during this period further reinforced the subordination of labor under the domain of capital and the nightmarish results of this priority in the Industrial Revolution. Confronting this crisis were religious leaders, philosophers, and economic reformers arguing that labor creates profit, not capital which is the hallmark of democratic socialism and today the DSA. The origins of this position can be traced to such reformers as Robert Owen. I argue that Owen’s model represents the initial development of what today has become known as “democratic socialism.”

Robert Owen and the Industrial Revolution

The negative externalities of the Industrial Revolution provided the context for a democratic socialist economy movement. Led by Robert Owen (1771–1858) and the utopian socialists, private property understood as the exclusive right of industrialists, was identified as the source of existing exploitation and inequality. While the Industrial Revolution brought about unprecedented wealth, only capitalists received the lion’s share. Though labor created massive profits (surplus value) for the capitalist class, labor received a subsistence wage. Owen and the utopian socialists sought to counter this injustice by opting for labor’s democratic ownership of capital and the surplus value they produced.

The Industrial Revolution that gathered momentum in eighteenth century Europe and the United States created the historical context for democratic socialism. Utopians argued that private property (capital) was the source of existing inequalities, but the framework of their thought, based on conceptions of a preindustrial society, is today remote. The extensive development of factory production and the social conditions that ensued – and the laissez-faire interpretation of these events favored by conventional economists – created the conditions in which modern socialism was born. Nonetheless, the Industrial Revolution brought about unprecedented increases in productivity based on the development of factories and the widespread use of machinery.

The major cost of these innovations was borne by society’s least powerful – the working class – or, for all intents and purposes, the vast majority of poor. In 1750 the working class in Europe, specifically England and the United States, lived near subsistence levels, and the purchasing power of wages deteriorated considerably during the second half of the eighteenth century. National income grew over this period, so that workers’ relative living standards fell and the potential consumption they involuntarily sacrificed financed the investment required for industrialization. Had working-class incomes kept in step with national income, the average worker would have been approximately 50 percent richer in 1840 than thirty years earlier.

The Industrial Revolution replaced traditional occupations – typically rural farming or guild status as an artisan in various crafts. This change resulted from the breakdown of the old feudal societies of Europe and the industrialization of those same economies due to mechanistic innovations in the means of production. Mechanization facilitated the division of labor, creating tasks that women and children could perform. Entire families often worked to achieve subsistence. The conditions under which labor was performed were unregulated and dangerous and involved long hours in dehumanizing conditions. Moreover, the growth of factory production stimulated urbanization in Europe and the United States. As a result, roads, water, sewage, waste management, public health, and provisions for open spaces failed to keep pace with urban migration, while housing was concentrated in crowded slums. The inevitable result manifested itself in air and water pollution, epidemics of typhoid and cholera, and widespread respiratory and intestinal disease, with a consequent low expectation of life.

Successive administrations in England, specifically during the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution, were slow to intervene and remedy social problems and maintain the price of bread and impeded, or subverted, the development of trade unions. Within this context it can be asserted that the period of Napoleonic war and the subsequent economic crisis constituted the bleakest chapter in British labor history, precisely because the foundations of modern industry were erected on the suffering of workers denied access to the fruits of an expanding economy. By contrast, capitalists enjoyed absolute power over their labor force. Thus the Industrial Revolution created the modern working class, nominally free but able to live only by selling their labor power. Suffice it to say, Britain witnessed a considerable development of radical economic doctrines in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Radical Response

Owen’s prestige was based on his reputation as a businessman, an economic theorist, and a social reformer. From the age of ten he served as a draper’s apprentice, but at twenty he was the manager of a large cotton factory at New Lanark, which became renowned throughout Britain for its conditions of work. Owen was a benevolent autocrat who insisted on strict industrial discipline, but in combination with living wages, a decent work environment, abolition of child labor and compulsory education for workers’ children. The profitability of New Lanark demonstrated the shortsightedness of other capitalists’ notion that profit maximization is best achieved through the alienation and exploitation of labor. New Lanark provided a viable moral counterstrategy to neoliberal market rationality.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century industrialization rested on three sets of institutional principles: (1) the absolute nature of private property, (2) a self-regulating laissez-faire market economy, and (3) the transformation of labor into a commodity. While Owen accepted industrial innovations he did not agree with the unrestrained rule of private capital, self-regulating markets, and the exploitation of human labor. He argued these three economic “truths” were the ultimate causes of contemporary inequalities and social injustice and thus urged their elimination. Owen believed that an industrial economy, if it is to be moral, must be created based on the principles that every person must be treated with dignity and the proceeds of production were divided equitably. The operation of any economy was then to be criticized and evaluated according to such principles. Owen believed that a more just and efficient economy should be focused on his experimental model at New Lanark. Thus Owen’s political economy was based on three important “radical” tenants.

The first tenant is based on what Owen described as an “Economy of High Wages.” Owen held the view that a wage increase – or higher labor costs – leads to: (1) an improvement in the living standards of workers, (2) which then leads to greater efficiency and production by workers. In other words, increased wages generate additional revenue for both company and workers. Yet Owen’s theory conflicted with the prevailing orthodoxy, which argued that any wage increase occurred at the expense of profits and hence led to a diminution in employment and economic activity. Nevertheless, by extending the “Economy of High Wages” from an individual firm to the nation, Owen embraced an embryonic under-consumption theory of depressions. He advocated a high-wage policy that maintained purchasing power as a cure for unemployment and promotion of economic growth.

The second tenant on which Owen based his political economy was a belief that an individualistic economy is inequitable, irrational, and antisocial. Moreover private ownership is an institution whereby one class gains power over the rest in order to maximize profits. In contrast, Owen did not attack industry or new technology as it manifested itself in the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Rather, he denounced private ownership of the means of production, the spread of unfettered and unregulated economic competition, and elements of narcissistic individualism propagated through Enlightenment liberalism. Owen argued to the contrary that private ownership and unrestrained competition destroys social cohesion. Furthermore, he argued that individuals by themselves cannot simply improve their own lot in life. Rather it was within the context of a community and its many support networks that the betterment of individuals was realized.

The third tenant is based on Owen’s labor theory of value premised upon the priority of labor. He viewed human labor as “the natural standard of value” and that this concept required capital and machinery to become the servant of labor. Owen believed that capital and profit are designed to serve the human person and community as its first moral priority. Public policy and not the “market” should determine the amount of labor expended on commodities, and workers ought to be compensated based on both human needs and effort. Owen argued for economic cooperation, rather than competition, through a network of self-governing communes, where private ownership of the means of production was transformed into a democratic alliance eliminating any labor-ownership conflict. Owen argued that capital and profit should never come at the expense of labor.

Owen as Social Reformer

Owen’s career as a national reformer can be understood in different stages. Between the publication of Towards a New View of Society in 1813 and A Report to the County of Lanark in 1821, he concentrated on ameliorating existing social problems such as poverty, child labor, inhumane work hours and unemployment. He thought that these social injustices could be avoided if other manufacturers replicated New Lanark on grounds of “enlightened self-interest.” Indeed, his arguments applied to capitalists more concerned with long-term profitability than with immediate gains, but he found that his appeals met with little response. He then attempted to persuade government to alleviate poverty and inequality and was popular in official circles after 1815, only by virtue of the fact that he focused on the importance of environmental improvements more than his personal brand of socialism. As he advanced beyond the role of wealthy philanthropist to structural reforms that threatened the establishment power centers, he became decreasingly influential in elite circles.

Between 1824-1835, Owen established what he described as “communist” communities. The cities of Orbiston (near Glasgow), Tytherley (in Hampshire) and New Harmony in Indiana were three of the most prominent. The aim was to settle unemployed laborers on the land in self-governed “Villages of Unity and Cooperation.” Such schemes reflected his conviction that society as then constituted would permit cooperatives to supplant existing institutional structures. Owen did this by attempting to persuade the rich and influential about his ideas for social and economic transformation. Nevertheless the Owenite settlements were challenged partly because of the hostile external environment of the business community and the agricultural depression, which generated an influx of unemployed workers which exceeded capacity. Consequently an excess supply of labor to the villages of cooperation proved counterproductive to the communist communities yet not insurmountable..

Owen persisted in his collectivist experimentations. In 1824 the London Co-operative Society was formed as a store for cooperative trading, designed to supersede competitive distribution and allow craftsmen to exchange goods without capitalist intermediaries. It aimed to sell at trade prices and use the savings accumulated through elimination of retailers’ profits to financially bolster socialist communities. The next envisaged stage of development involved members’ cooperation to produce directly for each other rather than choosing between capitalist goods sold in their stores. For example, the London Society opened an Exchange Bazaar for societies and individuals to engage in mutual exchange. Owen returned from the United States in 1829, after establishing more than three hundred cooperative societies, in the United States and England. This figure rose to almost five hundred by 1832, although many pursued solely educational objectives.

Cooperative stores bought wholesale and sold retail, the commodities demanded by their members, but cooperative producers faced the difficult problem of obtaining a market for all their products. This problem stimulated development of labor exchanges where workmen and producers’ cooperatives could exchange products directly and thus dispense with both employers and merchants. The most important such institution, the National Equitable Labor Exchange, was established by Owen in 1832 and stimulated the formation of similar exchanges in provincial cities. They sought to secure a wider market for cooperative groups and to enable them to exchange their products at an equitable valuation resting on labor time.

Owen appointed trade union “valuers” to price goods on the basis of the cost of raw materials plus the amount of labor time expended on them. A new currency of labor notes was issued for the conduct of transactions. Crucial weaknesses emerged, however. Labor and commercial prices coexisted; goods the exchanges offered more cheaply were soon disposed of, while the more expensive remained unsold. Exchanges would not control their stocks to demand levels and movements in the manner of capitalist retailers, since they had to take what members brought them. Consequently, they became overstocked where there were many cooperative producers and understocked in trades where there were few.

In particular their supplies were concentrated on goods that could be produced by craftsmen possessing little capital. Despite this major weakness, they enjoyed considerable success for a time but collapsed in the general crash of the movement in 1834. Even then some exchanges balanced their books while the National Equitable Labor Exchange incurred a heavy debt, which then fell to Owen. When Owen returned to England in 1829, he found that a trade-union movement had emerged after the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, and in 1829 he witnessed the formation of the first modern national union, the Operative Spinners.

While this was happening, the next two years saw much social unrest in the form of agricultural riots and a wave of strike activity in the northern textile towns as a means of achieving the eight-hour workday. Then, by 1832 several distinct but related bodies, such as, the Owenite societies, cooperative stores, cooperative producers, labor exchange, and trade unions, looked to Owen for leadership. Most were growing rapidly as workers, disillusioned by the terms of the 1832 Reform Act, swung away from political mobilization toward organized labor action. Owen sought the fusion of these groups into one national organization, centrally directed and under worker control, which would challenge and transform economic relations through its practice of cooperative production.

By 1833 the Operative Builders’ Union was the largest in the country, with a membership of sixty thousand. The OBU adopted an Owenite agenda to take over the construction industry and reorganize it as a national guild. To implement this program none of its members would work for capitalist builders who refused to join the guild. The owners attempted to destroy the OBU by a lockout by forcing those reemployed to sign a document (i.e., a written pledge not to join a union, which gives the employer the right to fire them if they violate the pledge). The workers lost as the OBU simultaneously fought the lockout and attempted to launch the guild with inadequate financial resources. Its members were then forced back to work by various regions during 1834, and by the end of that year the OBU ceased to exist. It split into craft sections with a greatly reduced membership.

Owen, nevertheless, sought to unite all the associations intended for the improvement of the working class. To this end he inspired the formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union—or GNCTU—which was intended to be a single inclusive union aiming to supersede capitalism by a cooperative system based on workers’ control of production. It sought to implement on an economy-wide basis a plan similar to the OBU guild for construction. Ultimately the GNCTU would control, through its constituent members, all industry, thereby taking over the functions of capitalists, parliament, and local government. It would become the locus of economic, and ultimately political, power. The GNCTU’s formation was followed by feverish organization by discounting cooperative retail and producer societies; unions alone attracted over one million members.

As with the OBU, owners reacted to the GNCTU by presenting the document to workers, with the threat of a lockout if not signed. This response originated in Derby; it was imitated in other towns, but Derby remained the test struggle. The workers lost, being forced back to work after a lockout lasting four months. Given the repeal of the Combination Acts, the case was pursued under the 1797 Naval Mutinies Act, which was never intended to apply to trade unions. Nonetheless, this opportunity for the government to deter union organization arose because many unions adopted secret initiation ceremonies under the threat of employer retaliation. As a result, the GNCTU encountered severe administrative problems. The recruits it made and the disputes it faced were so abundant that urgent problems of management were inevitably ignored.

Internal disention developed, and Owen became disillusioned; he hoped to initiate bloodless revolution by providing examples of the benefits derived from cooperation. Accordingly he dissolved the GNCTU in August 1834, arguing for a return to education and the need for an ethical appeal in preference to coercion. The GNCTU faded away, but some of its constituent groups and elements of its cooperative ideology remained. Owen returned to establishing villages of cooperation (e.g., Queenswood in 1839), and in 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers’ Cooperative Society developed from a local Owenite body. However, after 1834 the thrust of working-class agitation moved from industrial to political arenas, focusing on the demands of the Chartists.

The Grand National Consolidated Trades Union was undoubtedly a failure in its implementation, yet it was attempting an impossible task that no leadership could have achieved. This is because trade unions were still learning the art of organizing into a cohesive, effective unit. At the time, workers were only able to accomplish sporadic results from organizing into unions and cooperatives. However, they were unable to achieve any sustained action. By contrast, having just won a significant political victory in the 1832 Reform Act, factory owners and burgeoning industrialists were determined in their resolve to counter any form of organized-labor movement or cooperative-based industry. They also possessed the support of a Whig government determined to show that the Reform Act would not destroy property rights. Against such power, workers were poorly paid, uneducated, and only beginning to understand the importance to organized efforts to seek improved working conditions and living-wage salaries.

Although Owen’s innovations beyond the sphere of New Lanark failed during his lifetime, he left an enduring legacy to the future of radical theory. The influence of Owen’s would be: (1) he established a personal example of one who cast aside his personal wealth in an endeavor to secure a more just future for others, (2) the economic measures at New Lanark illustrated that a policy of high wages and improved conditions need not destroy profitability, (3) many of Owen’s theoretical innovations (e.g., labor value to replace money as an Equitable Labor Exchange) are not inherently impractical, (4) his theories of, and attempts to establish, workers’ cooperatives made Owen the instigator of a significant movement of later times, as developments from the Rochdale Pioneers of 1844 demonstrate, and (5) Owen’s appreciation of the role of trade unions in replacing individual worker motivations by collective policy provided a clue to improving quantitative and qualitative living standards and also pointed to a force that could potentially be harnessed for achieving a future transformation of just and productive economic relations.

Owen’s approach to resolving economic injustice epitomized the Utopian approach to resolving exploitation. He hoped for individual conversion, then government action. Yet this was an unrealistic ambition given the existing power structure at the time. What Owen lacked was a theory of class struggle, believing instead that the transition to socialism, or a more democratic economy, would occur through the influence of reason and persuasion. Nevertheless, Owen’s worker co-operatives represent what is, arguably, the initial stages of democratic socialism, to legacy of FDR, Michael Harrington, and the Democratic Socialists of America, urged the same Owenite plan for a more just economy and society,

Notes

Marx, in Capital, discusses the expropriation of agricultural land from the poor who are dependent on that very land for their basic needs. The historical context of the enclosure movement was based on a policy measure initiated by the aristocracy and wealthy land owners in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. The movement was aimed at confiscating land that was owned in common by a village or at least available to the village for grazing animals and growing food. The enclosure movement was designed to expropriate village land and redistribute it to the aristocracy and wealthy for their ownership. In 1845 British Parliament passed the Enclosure Act of 1845, in which the British government started “enclosing” land (walls, fences, or hedges) and awarding this land to the aristocracy and wealthy land owners who, arguably, knew how to make more efficient use of it. The consequence for the people who were using this land was often eviction, sending many of them to slums in the cities in hopes of finding work in low-paying jobs such as factory work spawned by the Industrial Revolution. The most well-known enclosure movements were in the British Isles, but the practice had its roots in the Netherlands and caught on to some degree throughout Northern Europe and elsewhere as industrialization spread.

Chicago: Mass Charter School Teacher Strike

Angering Wall Street and other millionaires and billionaires who promote charter schools, in early December 2018 hundreds of teachers at a corporate charter school chain in Chicago called Acero set a historic record and held the nation’s first mass charter school teachers’ strike.

The strike at Acero’s 15 charter schools, attended by mostly poor and low-income Latino students, was something wealthy private interests urgently wanted to avoid because it would bring too much attention to many problems that have been plaguing charter schools for years.

Smaller classes, more school personnel, better pay, and greater teacher voice were some of the many demands that 500 Acero teachers made. Out-of-touch Acero CEO, Richard Rodriguez, made many misleading statements about the striking teachers in order to discredit their struggle and rights. Like other charter school supporters, Rodriguez is eager to deprive people of their perception and consciousness, and desperately wants people to believe the opposite of what is happening and what is needed. He wants to operate with impunity while casting teachers as irresponsible for defending their rights and the rights of their students.

Extensive research easily obtained online shows that the charter school sector has been rife with fraud, corruption, racketeering, investigations, and arrests, as well as a lack of regulations, unions, teacher stability, accountability, or transparency for decades. These and other conditions common to charter schools nationwide have long produced a low level of teaching and learning, and a high level of stress, dissatisfaction, and frustration for everyone. It was only a matter of time before a large number of teachers at a corporate charter school chain joined together to defend their rights and protest long-standing horrible working conditions. Teachers’ working conditions, and therefore students’ learning conditions, in charter schools have been subpar for decades.

About three million youth are currently enrolled in approximately 7,000 charter schools across the country. These privately operated, publicly funded schools are legal in 44 states, Washington, DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico. They are governed by individuals who are not publicly elected and who eagerly embrace the notion of education as a commodity subject to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the so-called “free market.” Charter school supporters see the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market” as a virtue. They are unable to see that such an arrangement is barbaric and outdated.

Roughly 92% of charter schools are not unionized. Charter school owners-operators are notorious for vicious union-suppression tactics. Ask any teacher at a charter school that has even thought about unionizing what usually happens to them. It’s ugly and desperate. Unions are to charter schools what the crucifix is to Dracula. But even when unions exist in charter schools, they are usually not as strong and powerful as unions in public schools. This is the same reason why more than 95% of charter schools are not started, controlled, or operated by teachers—not 30 years ago and not today.

It is no secret that teacher turnover in charter schools has always been very high across the board because working conditions are generally poor, especially compared to working conditions in public schools, which are constantly being defunded by charter schools. Teachers don’t leave charter schools because charter school operators are just so good at selecting and keeping amazing teachers while “weeding out” rotten teachers; they leave because they want to work somewhere else with better working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.

Charter school teachers, on average, have fewer college credentials than their public school counterparts, fewer years of teaching experience, work longer school days and years, make less money, and have fewer, if any, pension or retirement benefits. Over the years, numerous sources have documented these and many other destructive trends endemic to the entire charter school sector.

Both charter school teachers and public school teachers are fed up with backwards working conditions and realize that no one is going to defend their rights except themselves. Relying on politicians, “experts,” charter school operators, major owners of capital, or the media does not work. Status quo forces have no interest in opening the path of progress to society. On the contrary, such forces are working overtime to suppress the rights of teachers and other workers under the veneer of high ideals. Teachers must rely on themselves, on their own numbers, power, and organization to forge ahead and bring about changes consistent with modern demands and requirements. They and other workers should reject a capital-centered outlook and fight for arrangements, views, and definitions that favor the working class and the people.

Striking charter school teachers in Chicago may have broken a certain threshold, sending an empowering message to other teachers, especially charter school teachers, that they do not have to be passive in the face of attacks on their rights and the rights of students. Charter school owners-operators must be held accountable for the havoc they are wreaking in the sphere of education.

Millionaires and billionaires behind charter schools are hell-bent on trampling on public right and imposing on the public a most self-serving narrative about charter schools. This is why they are also upset and demoralized about 30,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) flooding the streets of Los Angeles on January 14, 2019 to affirm their rights, especially by opposing charter schools. Thousands of parents, students, workers, and residents have turned out to support the teachers. The last such major walkout by LA teachers was in 1989. California authorized the first charter schools in 1992 and is now home to more than 1,100 charter schools, which is more than any other state.

LA teachers have specifically targeted charter schools as a major problem because these schools are directly harming every aspect of LA’s public school system.

Charter school disinformation is slowly losing its grip on social consciousness. More people are steadily coming to see the fraud that charter schools represent and that these schools cannot be prettified. Charter schools are a form of financial parasitism.

In the context of this intensifying fight, people should not be diverted by false dichotomies like “good” charter schools versus “bad” charter schools, nonprofit charter schools versus for-profit charter schools, regulated charter schools versus unregulated charter schools, mom-and-pop charter schools versus corporate charter schools, or high-performing charter schools versus low-performing charter schools. These categories are meaningless when considering that all charter schools, regardless of this or that consideration, are privatized, marketized, corporatized arrangements that have a net negative effect on the sphere of education, society, and the economy. Nor should anyone swallow hook, line, and sinker the nonsense about charter schools being about “choice” and “empowering parents.” Hundreds of charter schools close each year, often suddenly, leaving thousands of families abandoned, stressed, angry, and disillusioned. Charter schools violate and disempower parents, teachers, students, and principals all the time.

A Shameful Legacy: “Race” and the Railroad Industry in the United States

“Race” has always, historically speaking, been the Achilles Heel of the labor movement in the United States, the number one tool of the bosses and big capital to divide, contain, and crush working-class struggles.

In the history of the worker’s movement in the US there are few things as shameful as the legacy – decade-after-decade – of blatant in-your-face segregationist practices, codified discrimination, and race-hatred against African-American  railroaders. The latter story— the oppression and the resistance —is told in Eric Arnesen’s Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality. Among African American rail workers who have experienced and studied this rich history, Arnesen’s book is considered the authoritative reference, the Bible really, of an important, if often overlooked, history in the overall struggle for Black and worker’s rights in the US. (In addition to Brotherhoods of Color, I would recommend Philip Foner’s classic history Organized Labor and the Black Worker 1619-1973 an extraordinarily rich and comprehensive general history that takes up these issues and much more.)

The Railway Labor Act

The passage of the Federal Railway Labor Act of 1924 (RLA) registered important advances for railroad workers in that it was the first federal legal recognition of trade unions by craft. The RLA set up collective bargaining mechanisms that facilitated legally binding contract settlements and the adjudication of grievances, in exchange for rail labor organizations submitting to drawn-out federally “supervised” procedures that in practice gave up the right to strike.

Nevertheless, these concessions to rail labor reined in somewhat the unbridled prerogatives of the rail bosses over decades of on-again, off-again class war on the US rails from the great labor uprisings of 1877 through the struggles of the American Railway Union under the leadership of the legendary Eugene V. Debs.

The American Railway Union fought for the unification of all railroad workers – regardless of craft, race or ethnicity – into one big union. It won a big victory in the 1894 Great Northern strike but fell apart after the massive defeat in the Pullman strike later that year.

Those decades saw regular combat been rail capital and rail labor over worker’s rights, decent wages and living standards, working conditions and safety, the length of the working day, health and vacation benefits, and so on. The RLA, as it became institutionalized, also reined in the violence the rail bosses and their thugs and goons, backed by state and federal cops, National Guard, and armed forces, that was periodically unleashed against rail labor.

By setting up a significant government bureaucracy to oversee the adjudication of contract settlements and grievances, Washington and the rail carriers accomplished a major political goal of buying “labor peace” in the vast national rail industry at a time the United States was rising as a world power following World War I.

Another concession in the interests of rail labor was that the RLA also established the first federally protected pension system for any category of US workers, eleven years before the passage of the Social Security Act. The Railroad Retirement Board still exists to this day parallel to the Social Security Administration (and from which I personally draw my pension as a retired locomotive engineer).

The Institutionalization of Segregation

Perhaps the most pernicious consequences of the RLA was that it froze into place existing, narrow craft categories of workers, and, within that, a system of racist discrimination and the exclusion of non-“white” workers from the legally recognized craft unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods.”

It took decades of struggle in the yards, in the streets, in state and Federal legislatures, and continually in the courts, before the system began to weaken in the 1940s, under the impact of World War II labor shortages and the entry of masses of African American workers into the labor force and the massively expanding war industries. Further pressure mounted in the 1950s, as the Civil Rights Movement began to mobilize and fight, until the whole rotten structure collapsed in ignominy after the passage of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act. Over the next few years, Blacks finally began to get jobs, and union membership, as locomotive engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen and switchmen, electricians and machinists, office personnel, and other crafts beyond “their” craft as sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining car attendants. Women began to enter the operating crafts and other skilled rail jobs in relatively larger numbers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Massive Union Growth in the US

The great labor battles of the 1930s in the United States are downplayed in history textbooks and public education. In fact, this period was marked by a huge working-class and trade union upsurge across the US. The nadir of US labor organization was in the depths of the 1931-32 Great Depression. Union membership had been reduced to 1-2% of the employed workforce. Most of that pitiful number was within the semi-moribund, very conservative AFL craft unions. By 1937-38 the number of organized workers has risen to a full 35% of the US workforce, following a few years of explosive strikes and organizing campaigns under the banner of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) movement with successful drives to organize the steel, auto, trucking, and countless other industries. Nowhere has there been recorded such a massive growth in trade-union membership in such a short period as in the United States at that time.

Unfortunately, this mass organization of the US working class in the 1930s bypassed almost completely the railroad industry and the “whites only” craft-union structure of the “Brotherhoods” that had been codified under the RLA a decade earlier. The craft structure was reinforced, with its segregationist core intact.

The CIO

The CIO did not exclude African-American workers and actively recruited them. In the course of the decade’s great labor battles, such as the Flint Sit-Down strikes of 1936-1937, the battle to organize US Steel and the entire steel industry, and much more, Black and Caucasian workers often organized, mobilized, and fought together and even politically radicalized, to an extent, together. Caucasian workers had to adjust their perspectives and outlooks and confront their prejudices to a degree as they faced the reality that African-American workers had already become a mass presence in US industry. Their numbers and concentration, as well as their evident and obvious capacity for industrial work and a fierce determination to struggle for decent-paying union jobs in the face of race prejudice and segregationist practice was becoming politically unstoppable. Race-baiting was an ever-present political tool of the bosses who fought tooth and nail against trade union advances. Many workers became conscious of these divide-and-conquer tactics and began to rethink their world outlooks.

The Women’s Emergency Brigade organized during the Flint Sit Down Strike of 1937.

Roots of the Civil Rights Movement

Brotherhoods of Color shows that the source and ultimate responsibility for the racist practices and policies that confronted Black workers throughout the 20th Century lay with the private rail carriers and the federal and state governments that catered to their needs and profits. Nevertheless, it must also be said that often these industry and state authorities used the racist and mean-spirited attitudes of the rail unions, the so-called “Brotherhoods” as a cover for inaction or hostile action against Black workers, who were fighting a permanent defensive war to preserve the relatively skilled jobs they had managed to secure.

These AFL-affiliated craft unions, legally recognized under the RLA, contained bylaws and “covenants” that openly excluded Black workers, making them essentially “white job trusts.” The “Brotherhoods” were, at times, even more racist and reactionary than the formal policies of the carriers and government bodies and agencies who regularly came under enough political and legal pressure from Black workers and their allies among labor radicals and civil rights and worker’s rights lawyers, to occasionally give lip service (and usually little else) to fair labor practices.

Brotherhoods of Color meticulously documents the legal battles doggedly fought by civil rights and worker’s rights attorneys in the generally hostile territory of the criminal justice system that predominated at that time. That system, as a whole, acted to uphold and defend – decade after decade – the prevailing system of de jure or de facto segregation and keep Black workers and their attorneys in an endless legal labyrinth. Nevertheless, working through the rigged “legal system,” trying to wring any concessions possible was the main approach of the more conservative Black and liberal organizations like the NAACP.

They took advantage of every contradiction between the fine words of US law and its sordid reality and snail’s pace when it came to race and sex discrimination. Even favorable court rulings here and there were rarely, if ever, implemented in practice. Slick government, carrier, or “Brotherhood” lawyers always managed to drag things out.

This legalistic road was nowhere a sufficient basis for change. It was rather more of a marker and registration for the ebb and flow of the grass-roots struggle against job discrimination and segregation which became unstoppable by the 1960s. Arnesen writes:

Just as proponents of educational desegregation learned in the 1950s, court-imposed solutions were costly, time-consuming, and imperfect. Employment discrimination cases slowly wound their way through the judicial system in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, addressing local variations as well as other obstacles that the ‘white’ craft unions threw in the way of African-American railroaders. Without a doubt, these cases established important principles that undermined the legitimacy of racist practices. In effect, though, they eroded only at a glacial pace both existing and new practices designed to thwart the job rights of black fireman and brakemen.

The struggles documented in Brotherhoods of Color became one of the mightiest rivers flowing into the ocean of the mass Civil Rights Movement emerging in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s. The political culmination was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which gave the legal death knell to the segregationist practices that were institutionalized at the time of the Railway Labor Act. After the 1964 legislation the resistance of the craft unions collapsed virtually overnight and a period, sometimes fraught with tension but with steady gains, saw the beginnings of genuine job opportunities, union membership, and advances for African American workers in the freight and passenger rail industry.

Even in the period when Black workers were largely confined to crafts of sleeping car porters, cooks, and dining attendants, Black-led unions representing these workers on the job were organized. The strongest was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) which became, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, a powerful, prestigious organization in Black communities across the United States. The BSCP received a charter from the AFL in 1925 and, for years, unsuccessfully petitioned for the desegregation of the racist “Brotherhoods.” The BSCP was in the forefront of Black rights struggles across the US.

For example, it is not well known that the central organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was E.D. Nixon, President of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the BSCP and the NAACP who convinced a courageous 26-year-old Martin Luther King (older prominent local preachers were reluctant to step forward) to take public leadership of what became the turning-point action that became the major spark of the mass movement across the South that soon materialized. The legendary Rosa Parks, whose conscious, well-organized decision to refuse to sit at the back of the bus set off the boycott, was a secretary at the NAACP office employed by BSCP worker and organizer E.D. Nixon.

Randolph had the courage to threaten a mass March on Washington in early 1941 demanding an end to segregation in the armed forces as well as that the massively expanding war industries hire and promote without discrimination Black workers. President Franklin Roosevelt was not happy but issued Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination in war industries under federal contracts. This succeeded in get the March on Washington called off. Randolph later became the honorary chairperson for the famous 1963 March on Washington.

But the real heroes in Brotherhoods of Color are the rank-and-file workers, themselves, fighting to preserve their jobs against the carriers, the state governments, and the racist “Brotherhoods.” Arnesen gives them their voice and records their efforts, their many defeats and some victories which, when all is said and done, contributed mightily to the historic breakthroughs of the 1960s.

The overall history documented comprehensively by Arnesen does reveal clearly that all advances, small and larger, won were a byproduct of independent mass action or the threat of it from below.

Crucially, it should be emphasized that the space to do this was increased materially in the first half of the 20th Century in the World War I era, and, even more in the buildup to US entry into World War II. The centrality of the rail industry, the conversion to massive war production on the eve of World War II translated to a hunger for labor power on the railroads in particular and US industry in general. Black workers, already a massive layer of the working class in the worst, and worst-paying, jobs, and their representatives and advocates, saw the opening to fight for decent jobs, paying union-scale, in the rapidly expanding war industries. For example, during World War I thousands of Blacks were hired as construction and maintenance laborers on northern rail lines. In fact, Black GIs returning from World War II and the Korean War, and the African American nationality as a whole in these post-war periods, were in no mood for settling into the old segregationist and humiliating status quo.

Stop the Whitewashing of Our History

In my 30-year railroad career, working as a brakeman-switchman, hostler, and locomotive engineer in Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York, for first the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and then for Amtrak, I saw a transformation in the number of African-American and then women in the operating crafts. I remember being in the cab of the locomotive in the middle of some godforsaken stretch of Illinois countryside, or pulling a 150-car coal train from Chicago’s giant Proviso Yard to the gates of a northern Indiana power plant, listening to the stories of some of the first Black engineers that the carriers were forced to hire – and the craft unions gave up trying to exclude. These brothers related to me the bullshit they had to put up with initially, even as things began to get better and prejudices began to break down.

It would be very educational and useful if our unions today would confront this blot on our history and dignity as organizations of labor. This is long overdue. And not only for moral reasons.

I maintain that we need to know the history of our unions if we are going to transform them into instruments of struggle for the coming battles facing the working class in the United States today, in this new gilded age of obscene social inequality and squalid oligarchy in the United States.

This whitewashing of history really slapped me across the face when I received in the mail in 2013 a booklet celebrating the 150th Anniversary of my union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which is now a division of the Teamsters Union, and its predecessors the Brotherhood of the Footboard (founded in 1863) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. There was not a single word in that small book about the segregationist, “whites only” bylaws and “covenants” that prevailed for 100 years!

I had once personally confronted BLET President Dennis Pierce about this, in a friendly way, when he attended a retirement party thrown by our Division 11 in New York City. Brother Pierce told me he was “appalled” at what he saw in the archives, including “whites only” covenants, but when I asked him why the history booklet sent to each member, glorifying the history of our union, there was not a single word on the decades-long blatant racism he fell back on the lame and cowardly rationalization that to include it in the 150th anniversary booklet and literature would be “divisive”! As if the real “division” were not the racist practices themselves.

Old Lessons, Current Realities

While the legacy of racist discrimination in the railroad industry – and in US social relations in general – have been dealt heavy blows in the past several decades, race hatred and demagogy remain a reference point for ultra-rightist forces and their allies (who are invariably anti-union) and a cutting-edge component in the current social and political polarization in US politics. These voices are trying to get a hearing for their reactionary viewpoints in the working class and our greatly weakened trade-union movement.

Since the financial crisis and so-called Great Recession of 2007-08 there were subsequent devastating attacks on the value of labor, employment, wages, and living standards under both Democratic and Republican White Houses and Congresses. The relative and slight uptick in GDP numbers today (famously manipulated and manipulatable), the balloon of the stock market, and slight increases in industrial production and manufacturing have been typically hyped by President Donald Trump – “this is the greatest economy in the history of America.” The actual economic figures (which are always “readjusted”) are significant and interesting mainly around the question of their sustainability. One key question: What will be the unintended consequences of the unfolding clashes over trade and tariffs between the United States, China, and the European Union? What will be the spillover effects, economically and politically, in Asia, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa?

Another curious fact that stands out for now is that wages for working people continue to stagnate and trend downward, with minor exceptions, despite the official low unemployment figures. Labor shortages in fast-food and other large-scale wholesale and retail operations such as Amazon, Walmart, and so on, along with militant drives by unorganized workers to fight for $15 an hour, have forced these outfits to grant some wage concessions.

Similarly, rank-and-file teachers, almost independent of their weak unions, forced state house to grant some wage relief (that is raises) with no strings attached in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Brotherhoods of Color is well-written and comprehensive. I recommend it not only for its rich evocation of the past but because it contains many lessons for rail and other US workers of whatever “race” or skin tone, for the present and future. Workers, who are being drawn into today’s struggles and will by the millions be drawn into the giant, inevitable class battles that lay ahead in the USA.

“May Day” Militancy Needed To Create The Economy We Need

The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement. REGISTRATION CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30.

Seventy years of attacks on the right to unionize have left the union movement representing only 10 percent of workers. The investor class has concentrated its power and uses its power in an abusive way, not only against unions but also to create economic insecurity for workers.

At the same time, workers, both union and nonunion, are mobilizing more aggressively and protesting a wide range of economic, racial and environmental issues.

On this May Day, we reflect on the history of worker power and present lessons from our past to build power for the future.

May Day Workers of the World Unite, Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. By Johan Fantenberg, Flickr.

In most of the world, May Day is a day for workers to unite, but May Day is not recognized in the United States even though it originated here. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs for the first May Day in history. It began in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed at their convention that workers themselves would institute the 8-hour day on May 1, 1886. In 1885 they called for protests and strikes to create the 8-hour work day. May Day was part of a revolt against abusive working conditions that caused deaths of workers, poverty wages, poor working conditions and long hours.

May Day gained permanence because of the Haymarket rally which followed. On May 3, Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works during a strike where locked-out steelworkers were beaten as they picketed and two unarmed workers were killed. The next day a rally was held at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of workers by police. The rally was peaceful, attended by families with children and the mayor himself. As the crowd dispersed, police attacked. A bomb was thrown—no one to this day knows who threw it—and police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several civilians and wounding forty. One officer was killed by the bomb and several more died from their own gunfire. A corrupt trial followed in August concluding with a biased jury convicting eight men, though only three of them were present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. Seven received a death sentence, the eighth was sentenced to 15 years, and in the end, four were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later. The trial shocked workers of the world and led to annual protests on May Day.

The unity of workers on May Day was feared by big business and government. That unity is shown by one of the founders of May Day, Lucy Parsons, who was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. Parsons, who was born into slavery, never ceased her work for racial, gender, and labor justice. Her partner was Albert Parsons, one of those convicted for Haymarket and hanged.

Solidarity across races and issues frightens the power structure. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland severed May Day from its roots by establishing Labor Day on the first Monday in September, after pressure to create a holiday for workers following the Pullman strike. Labor Day was recognized by unions before May Day. The US tried to further wipe May Day from the public’s memory by President Dwight Eisenhower proclaiming “Law and Order Day” on May 1, 1958.

Long Shoreman march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. Source: The Internationalist

Escalation of Worker Protests Continues to Grow

Today, workers are in revolt, unions are under attack and the connections between workers’ rights and other issues are evident once again. Nicole Colson reports that activists on a range of issues, including racial and economic justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, a new economy of worker-owners, transitioning to a clean energy economy with environmental and climate justice, and a world without war, are linking their struggles on May Day.

There has been a rising tide of worker militancy for years. The ongoing Fight for $15 protests helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union. There are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour. Last year there was also a massive 36-state strike involving 21,000 mobility workers.

Worker strikes continued into 2018 with teacher strikes over salaries, healthcare, pensions and school funding. Teachers rejected a union order to return to work. Even though it included a 5 percent raise, it was not until the cost of healthcare was dealt with that the teachers declared success. Teachers showed they could fight and win and taught others some lessons on striking against a hostile government. The West Virginia strike inspired others, and is followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. These strikes may expand to other states, evidence of unrest has been seen in states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico because courage is contagious.

Graduate students have gone on strike, as have transit and UPS workers and low-wage workers. The causes include stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare costs, and inadequate pensions. They are engaged in a fight for basic necessities. In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.

Workers are also highlighting that women’s rights are worker’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement took off, workers protested sexual harassment in the workplace. Workers in thirty states walked off the job at McDonald’s to protest, holding signs that said “McDonald’s Hands off my Buns” and “Put Some Respect in My Check.”

Last year on May Day, a mass mobilization of more than 100,000 immigrant workers walked off their jobs. This followed a February mobilization, a Day Without Immigrants. The Cosecha Movement has a long-term plan to build toward larger strikes and boycotts. There will be many worker revolts leading up to that day.

The Poor People’s Campaign has taken on the issues of the movement for economic, racial, environmental justice and peace. Among their demands are federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize. It will launch 40 days of actions beginning on Mother’s Day. Workers announced a massive wave of civil disobedience actions this spring on the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, at a protest where they teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for Black Lives.  Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in cities across the country.


Unrealized Worker Power Potential Can Be Achieved

The contradictions in the US economy have become severe. The wealth divide is extreme, three people have the wealth of half the population and one in five people have zero wealth or are in debt. The U.S. is ranked 35th out of 37 developed nations in poverty and inequality.  According to a UN report, 19 million people live in deep poverty including one-quarter of all youth. Thirty years of economic growth have been stagnant for most people in the US. A racial prism shows the last 50 years have made racial inequality even wider, with current policies worsening the situation.

May 5 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of economic philosopher, Karl Marx, the failure of US capitalism has become evident.  Over the last fifty years, in order for the few to exploit the many, labor laws have been put in place to weaken workers’ rights and unions.  Andrew Stewart summarizes some of the key points:

First, the National Labor Relations Act, signed by FDR, that legalized unionization. Or more precisely, it domesticated unions. When combined with the Taft-Hartley Act, the Railway Labor Act, and Norris-La Guardia Act, the union movements of America were forced into a set of confines that reduced its arsenal of tactics so significantly that they became a shell of their pre-NLRA days. And this, of course, leaves to the side the impact of the McCarthy witch hunts on the ranks of good organizers.

In addition, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, the Supreme Court in the Janus case, which is likely to be ruled on this June, is likely to undermine public unions. On top of domestic laws, capitalist globalization led by US transnational corporations has undermined workers, caused de-industrialization and destroyed the environment. Trade must be remade to serve the people and planet, not profits of the few.

While this attack is happening, so is an increase in mobilizations, protests, and strikes. The total number of union members grew by 262,000 in 2017 and three-fourths of those were among workers aged 35 and under and 23% of new jobs for workers under 35 are unionized. With only 10 percent of workers in a union, there is massive room for growth at this time of economic insecurity.

Chris Hedges describes the new gig economy as the new serfdom. Uber drivers make $13.77 an hour, and in Detroit that drops to $8.77. He reports on drivers committing suicide. One man, who drove over 100 hours a week, wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” This while the former CEO of Uber, one of the founders, Travis Kalanick, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. The US has returned to pre-20th Century non-union working conditions. Hedges writes that workers now must “regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists.”

Solidarity across racial and economic divides is growing as all workers suffer from abuses of the all-powerful capitalist class. As those in power abuse their privilege, people are becoming more militant. We are seeing the blueprint for a new worker movement in the teacher strikes and Fight for $15. A movement of movements including labor, environmentalist, anti-corporate advocates, food reformers, healthcare advocates and more stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This shows the potential of unified power.

In recent strikes, workers have rejected proposals urged by their union and have pushed for more. Told to go back to work, they continued to strike. The future is not unions who serve to calm labor disputes, but unions who escalate a conflict.

The future is more than re-legalizing unions and raising wages and benefits, it is building wealth in the population and creating structural changes to the economy. This requires a new economy where workers are owners, in worker cooperatives, so their labor builds power and wealth. Economic justice also requires a rewoven safety net that ensures the essentials of healthcare and housing, as well as non-corporatized public education, free college education, a federal job guarantee and a basic income for all.

The escalation of militancy should not demand the solutions of the past but demand the new economy of the future. By building community wealth through democratized institutions, we will reduce the wealth divide and the influence of economic inequality over our lives.

Ode to America

My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.

— Guster, “Center of Attention”, Lost and Gone Forever Live, 2014

So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.

Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.

Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.

The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.

This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.

The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven-and-a-half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.

There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.

Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.

While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.

There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect

I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.

The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.

As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).

There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.

Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course, I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.

Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle out of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls for increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.

Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.

I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming.  Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.

Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.

What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.

What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bio-regional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.

Visioning

What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.

Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of bio-dynamic farming, perma-culture, and agro-forestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.

Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bio-regional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.

The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.

Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how some have tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.

Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.

Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.

Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has  clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.

Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.

This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.

More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.

Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.

The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.

A Million Dollars Isn’t Worth, In Value, What It Used To Be

One of the primary economic paradoxes that has always perked the curiosity of both bourgeois and Marxist political economists alike can be neatly encapsulated in a notorious quip uttered by the famous New York Yankee’s catcher and manager, Yogi Berra, who, once upon a time, famously pronounced: “a nickel isn’t worth a dime, anymore”.

In this simple Yogism lies one of the primary post-modern financial mechanisms by which neoliberal bourgeois-capitalists have sucked value out of the workforce/population, under the cover of western economic opulence, into their own coffers to the bewilderment and detriment of the workforce/population, which slowly sinks ever-deeper into debt misery.  Behind Berra’s quip rests a capitalist sleight of hand, which pivots on the hidden properties of post-modern value-determinations, embodied in fiat-money and wealth. Namely, what Berra’s quip points to is a transfer, or fluctuation, of “worth” over time and space, between a nickel and a dime, despite the fact that the relation between a nickel and a dime remains at face-value technically unchanged and timeless. Berra’s quip points to the declining value of money in society, meaning the declining purchasing power of money, year in and year out, over the passing decades. And this, in a nutshell, is the essence of the rising financial inequality festering across post-industrial, post-modern, bourgeois-state-capitalism.

Unpacking this conundrum is no small feat as this sleight of hand lies at the center of the extraction and accumulation of capitalist profits.  First and foremost, to begin with, this capitalist sleight of hand; i.e., financial mechanism, was initially made possible by western capitalist economies when these western capitalist economies abandoned the gold-standard roughly in the early 1970s. This unfastening of wealth from gold detached value from any manner of universal measurement and/or points of reference which in the past could always be boiled down to the value of gold. Meaning, gold kept the relation between value and money (wealth), static, stable, and most importantly, honest. And, with the abandonment of the gold-standard, the relation between value and money (wealth) became increasingly arbitrary, ambiguous, and devoid of any solid referential basis. Namely, price, value, and wage, that is, value and money (wealth), went post-modern via the abandonment of the gold-standard.

Value and money (wealth) was unfastened and increasingly made subject to the arbitrary whims of bourgeois capitalists. That is, value, price and wage; i.e., value and money (wealth) became increasingly subject to the influence of power and power-relations, which is to say value and money (wealth) increasingly became subject to a new, post-modern, economic base, a base founded on force, influence and state-finance-corporate-networks. When gold was abandoned, the vacuum it left was filled by force, influence, and network-power, whereupon the relation between value and money (wealth) became increasingly a matter of influence, force and power. That is, a matter of networks and power-blocs, capable of determining, stabilizing, and managing the relation between value and money (wealth), according to their own perceived arbitrary standards and artificial determinations. This includes also the artificial, arbitrary, determination of value, price and wage through capitalist networks and power-blocs.

Consequently, the abandonment of the gold-standard opened western capitalist economies to new economic maneuvers, schemes, manipulations, and financial mechanisms, designed to increase capitalist profits for those select few who have the means and the power to do so. The result is, and continues to be, a vast globalized transfer of value from the globalized workforce/population to a small, globalized state-finance-corporate-aristocracy. Specifically, a capitalist aristocracy, which incessantly orchestrates this value-transfer via hidden value/price machinations, which have significantly destabilized the relation between value and money (wealth), while keeping the superficial structure of value and money (wealth) intact and unchanged. Yogi Berra’s witticism apprehends this capitalist trick very well. And, in addition, it is quite apropos that the initiator of post-industrial, post-modern, political-economics, via the abandonment of the gold-standard, should be a man aptly referred to as “Tricky Dick”, which was the informal, derisive, nickname for President Richard Nixon.

When Nixon removed the US economy off the gold-standard, a decision which was eventually adopted by all western economies, it ultimately set forth a post-modern gold rush, namely, a gold-rush grounded in financial manipulations and arbitrary values that would catapult and transform the banking and financial sectors into the premier economic vanguards of neoliberal capitalism, itself. The reason being, the capitalist-system, having gone off the gold standard, and now based on fiat-money, both digital and otherwise, was essentially empowered and privy to create money, seemingly out of nothing, namely, out of thin-air, so as to stimulate incessant capitalist growth and capitalist development.

However, contrary to Marxists, who state that no banking or financial institution whatsoever can create value out of thin-air, this is not really the case when it comes to the abandonment of the gold-standard and fiat money, despite some Marxists and bourgeois economists claiming the opposite. Granted, the creation of money by the central banks, including various financial institutions, appears like the creation of value out of thin-air, but this is not the case in the sense that what actually happens is that the illusion of instant money-creation; i.e., the instant creation of new fiat-money is, in fact, designed to dilute the total sum of value circulating across all sectors of the capitalist-system. The creation of new instant-money merely dilutes value across a larger monetary (wealth and capital) terrain and numerical sum wherefore a million dollars is no longer worth in value what it used to be. This means that there is less value being represented in every dollar with every financial injection of newly minted fiat-money.

Therefore, as Yogi Berra aptly stated “a nickel isn’t worth a dime, anymore”, and the reason is that any increase in fiat-money dilutes value over a larger sum of money (wealth), digital or otherwise, to such a radical extent that, according to Negri and Hardt, capitalists are “no longer able to measure value adequately. [Moreover, due to this dilution process] value can no longer be measured in terms of …labor-time”,1 meaning, that all modern labor theories of value, Marxist or bourgeois, are no longer applicable in the determination of value, price and wage, as “money [has been] unmoored in [this] phase of [complete] financial control”.2

In addition, these injections of instantaneous fiat-money into the economy tend to have the added consequence of resulting in the speed-up of circulation, production, consumption and distribution, both for capitalists and the general-population. The setting of interest rates by banking and financial institutions are supposedly designed to control inflation, but, in fact, they merely hide and veil the dilution of value across a wider economic terrain and a greater numerical sum of money and wealth. That is, interest rates conceal the dilution of value and help ease the transition into greater levels of value-dilution, including the fact that there is less purchasing power embodied in every dollar. Furthermore, the dilution of value, concealed in interest rate manipulations by the central banks and various financial institutions, permit the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to absorb greater levels of capitalist profits through the cloak of natural inflation, and through the arbitrary manipulation of price, value and wage.

This process enables the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to suck more value out of the general-population than it allocates unto them via the creation of new instant-money. That is, despite the general-population having access to, and having, more money and wealth than it previously had, the value laid-out across this money and this wealth, is significantly less than previous, due to the instantaneous manifestation of fiat-money, which has significantly increased the numerical sum of money and wealth, thus diluting value over a larger terrain of money and wealth.

To recap:

(1) value is diluted in and across the capitalist economy when money is instantaneously created by the central banks and/or various financial institutions. Meaning, that a million dollars is worth less in value than it previously was; and, moreover, this means that the attainment of a million dollars is easier for the general-population because there is more money circulating in and across the economy, which stimulates the general-population to work harder and buy more. Simultaneously, this also means that one billion dollars is in reach, which decades ago was virtually inconceivable. Notwithstanding, there is less value embodied in the sum of money and wealth, due to value having been diluted over a larger capitalist terrain.

(2) Injections of instant money in and across the economy also means that a person needs more of money (wealth) to acquire commodities due to the fact that commodity-prices, subject to inflation, tend to increase over an extended period of time and space. Notwithstanding, interest rate manipulations ease inflation and any sharp rise in prices, while permitting capitalists certain leeway to increase capitalist profits through the imposition of arbitrary mark-ups, which are validated on the premise of inflation and ever-increasing costs of production. However, these price mark-ups, which are, in fact, arbitrary and artificial fabrications by power-blocs and corporate-networks, always exceed inflation and the new production-costs, allowing for the cultivation of greater capitalist profits and value out of the workforce and the general-population.

The whole financial mechanistic process of the dilution of value is designed to trick the general-population, through a capitalist sleight of hand, by giving the general-population access to greater sums of money (wealth), while simultaneously radically decreasing the value embodied in these greater sums of money and wealth, which means that the general-population has access to less and less value, despite having access to more and more money. The value of the money and wealth, which the general-population has access to, is now worth significantly less than it was prior to the injection of new instantaneous fiat-money by banking and financial institutions. Ultimately, this means the general-population, in reality, has less purchasing power and is worth less with every increase in the numerical sum of money, the reason being the fact that value is diluted over a greater sum of money and wealth.

To sustain its current level of value and purchasing power in its own possession, the workforce/population has to work harder and longer with every new instantaneous creation of fiat-money by the central banks. If it is unable to do this, which on most counts this is the case, then the level of value and purchasing power in the possession of the workforce/population goes down and is transferred to the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy.

For example, in the United-States, the money supply grew “from 6.407 trillion in January 2005, to 18.136 trillion in January 2009”3, which had a profound effect on the relation between value and money (wealth), during this time-frame, as this fiat-money creation out of thin air diluted the amount of value embodied in every dollar. The result was increasing financial inequality between the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy and the workforce/population, including the creation of an ever-widening chasm between value and money (wealth), despite keeping the value-structure of money intact. Moreover, this has also enabled the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to raise the amount of money (wealth) needed for the general-population to purchase commodities via arbitrary value, price and wage-determinations, founded on nothing but power; i.e., the power to set price, value and wage, according to what an entity can get away with.

According to Negri and Hardt, in the age of post-industrial, post-modern capitalism, “how do [one] measure the value of knowledge, or information, or a relationship of care or trust, or the basic results of education or health services?”4 The answer is derivatives. For Hardt and Negri, “derivatives are part of finance’s response to the problem of measure”5 in the sense that “derivatives and derivative markets…operate…[to] establish commensurability, making an extraordinary wide range of existing and future assets measurable against one another”5. In effect, derivatives bundle together a variety of radically different commodities into a singular finance-commodity, which is then subjected to an arbitrary price and traded unto the global market. Through this economic process, derivatives provide an arbitrary marker for unknown values embodied in highly immeasurable objects, commodities, services etc., which are both conceptual and material in nature.

As Hardt and Negri state, “derivatives …make all manner of capitals across disparate spheres of place, sector and characteristic commensurate with one another”.5 However, what Hardt and Negri fail to see is that derivatives are highly arbitrary and artificial determinations, more or less, artificially fabricated values and prices, founded on the premise of power, that is, the power embodied in the specific ruling capitalist networks and power-blocs, which govern and dominate specific spheres of production such as finance. Derivatives are fictional manifestations and commodities, whose value and price-determinations have nothing to do with economic reality and everything to do with what a set of capitalist power-blocs can get away with, price-wise, within and across the marketplace.

As Marx might say, they are founded on “the whim of the rich and the capitalist”6, namely, power. That is, the power of a specific, capitalist-network to set the parameters and the sum of value and price across an industry, pertaining to a particular commodity, whether this is a mental commodities derivative, or a physical commodities derivative, while being able to maintain this value sum and price sum for an extended period of time and space, until this arbitrary value and price becomes, legitimately, an industry and global market norm. Therefore, contrary to Hardt and Negri, it is not derivatives, which establish commensurability between radically different commodities, it is power; i.e., the exercise of power through the medium of derivatives, which ultimately establishes artificial value and price, despite these values and prices being completely arbitrary and artificial constructs. Behind derivatives and derivative markets lie corporate, capitalist power-blocs, and capitalist networks, which pull the strings of power, according to the arbitrary whims of their mercenary impulses, which increasingly command maximum extraction and accumulation of surplus value. That is, maximum profit by any means necessary.

Likewise, the value embodied in derivatives, or a million dollars, decreases with every augmentation in the money (wealth) supply. The decrease in value is the result of dilution due to a larger sum of money and wealth now in circulation. Moreover, as the general-population requires more and more wealth to acquire commodities, as it did between 2005 and 2009, it begins to rely increasingly on credit, credit which eventually increases household debt for the general-population. And, between 2005 and 2009, this is exactly what happened for most of the general-population.

Consequently, through a combination of the dilution of value embodied in money (wealth) and the appropriation of greater sums of profit and value from the general-population, via inflation and exaggerated price mark-ups, global financial inequality has drastically increased between 2005 and 2009, resulting in a greater debt-load across the general-population coupled with greater profits and a greater value-transfer for the most well-off.  In effect, value flowed to the 1% during this period, which saw their incomes, purchasing power, and their wealth significantly increase, while the 99%, saw their incomes, their purchasing power and their wealth stagnate or significantly decrease. The reason was the fact that the 1% was able to keep up with the new, artificially fabricated rate of dilution in value, across a broader capital terrain, while the 99% could not keep up with the new, artificially fabricated, rate of dilution in value.

Furthermore, in an ironic twist of fate, through the dilution of value over a greater sum of money and wealth via the instant creation of fiat-money, the general-population has been led to believe it is acquiring more value and is witness to the increasing elimination of financial inequality, due to the fact that it has more wealth and access to wealth in its hands than ever before. However, this is an illusion in the sense that the general-population, although capable of accessing more wealth and is seemingly in possession of more wealth, nonetheless, has the same or less amount of value in its possession, due to the fact that this value is stretched out over a larger sum of wealth and money, coupled with larger amounts of debt.

This process of diluted value, by the central banks and other financial institutions, is nothing but a capitalist scheme by which to get the general-population spending more, namely, by tricking the general-population into believing it is wealthier, which is not factually the case. In fact, by spending more, the general-population invariably lowers the amount of value in its possession and increasingly transfers this precious value to the upper-echelons of the capitalist-pyramid; i.e., the 1%, that is, the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, through debt, through interest payments and through exaggerated commodity-prices. Namely, through an incessant, financial process of continuous value extraction out of the workforce/population and into the pockets and hands of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy; i.e., a small set of micro-fascist, oligarchical networks.

Additionally, this leaves the general-population increasingly indebted to the financial institutions of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, which invariably increases financial inequality between the general-population; i.e., the 99%, and the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy; i.e., the 1%, at an ever-increasing rate, with every artificial dilution of value. This globalized transfer of value, under the guise of the increasing opulence of the general-population through mass consumerism and financial schemes, essentially picks up steam with the elimination of the gold-standard in the early 1970s, which permitted the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy to increasingly misrepresent the relation of value and money (wealth), through price, value and wage machination, which technically allowed the general-population to superficially have more, but, in fact, to possess increasingly less in terms of value. That is, the manipulation of the amount of value embodied in every dollar, which has been steadily and progressively decreasing with each new magical financial injection of fiat-money (wealth) into the economy, has permitted the perpetuation of this capitalist ruse.

Wherefore, the general-population, technically, possesses more things and commodities, but yet, in fact, increasingly owns less of the total sum of value across the globe, which is embodied in these things and commodities. Of course, the reverse is true for the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, whereupon value is increasingly being sucked out of the workforce/population across the globe and siphoned into the coffers of the 1%. The result is an ever-increasing share in the total sum of value for the state-financial-corporate-aristocracy, which invariably comes at the expense of the global workforce/population. According to Hardt and Negri, this “monetary instability of finance and speculation, [manifested due to the arbitrariness of derivatives and fiat-money, simultaneously] corresponds to the precarity of labor”.7

In sum, this is a process of generalized global impoverishment, which is concealed behind the mask of capitalist opulence and magnified by capitalist mass consumerism, capitalist instant credit and convoluted capitalist financial mechanisms. Indeed, the overwhelming result of these capitalist schemes is the increasing imprisonment of the general-population into increasing debt. Because every dollar of wealth the general-population possesses, even if it makes more money and possesses more wealth than previous generations, has had its value stretched-out over a greater sum of wealth and money. Meaning, the value embodied in this wealth is less than, or equal to, the value possessed by previous generations, who on the surface seemingly possessed less wealth; i.e., value, than the contemporary workforce/population, but, in fact, own more things and commodities outright.

This is the post-modern capitalist sleight of hand, ushered-in with the abandonment of the gold-standard, wherefore the total sum of value in the world is having to be increasingly spread-out over more money (wealth) than any prior time in human history. Debt is the prime indicator that there is less and less value embodied in wealth and that a million dollars isn’t worth in value what it used to be. Today, the general-population may, theoretically, own their own houses on paper, but their mortgages tell a different story in the sense that, in actuality, the banks own these houses whereupon the general-population is ensnared in rent-to-own schemes where they are dishing out more value than they are getting back. In effect, when they actually own their houses outright after paying-off their mortgages, they will have paid far more in price and in value than the actual worth and value embodied in their homes. Today, houses have less value embodied in them, and moreover, due to inflationary real-estate schemes and outlandish property mark-ups, the general-population may only own, in actuality, the front-door on their dwellings while the banks own the rest. It is in this regard that the general-population is sinking ever deeper into debt-slavery and is increasingly falling under the thumb of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy.

Indeed, Yogi Berra was right, more so than he, himself, realized at the time, when he uttered that magic phrase: “a nickel isn’t worth a dime, anymore”.  However, the frightening prospect is that this dilution process is not over, due to the fact, as Hardt and Negri state, increasingly in our “contemporary [post-industrial] phase, the creation of money is determined primarily by financial instruments, …instruments [which] generate money in the manner of lending banks, that is, by lending more money than they have”.8 And, because of this excess of monetary and wealth creation, which increasingly dilutes value evermore towards nil, soon a dime will be worth less than a nickel is today, and a nickel less than a penny is today, and a penny less than nothing.

Conveniently, all the while the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, through sleight of hand, will strengthen its stranglehold on humanity and reduce the human condition to corporate-techno-capitalist-feudalism. That is, a plethora of corporate fiefdoms populated by a litany of post-industrial, post-modern, debt-serfs, crushed beneath the overwhelming weight of interest payments, insurmountable debt, and the ever-increasing threat of full automation. As Karl Marx eloquently surmised, in Das Capital (Volume One):

The production of surplus value, or the making of profits, is the absolute law of this [type of capitalist] mode of …[value] extraction…[wherefore] every accumulation becomes the means for new accumulation…[and] the concentration of capital, …[where] capital [eventually] grows to a huge mass in a single hand in one place, because it has been lost by many in [every] other place. [The result is] the accumulation of wealth at one pole [and] the accumulation of misery, …slavery, ignorance, brutalization and …degradation at the opposite pole.9

Indeed, this drawn-out, socio-economic process of value-dilution and value-transfer is gradually engineering capitalist society, through sleight of hand, into one giant, monetary-based, capitalist pyramid. That is, a corporate-techno-capitalist-feudalism where the 1% reap greater and greater portions of global values, while the 99% are increasingly forced into debt servitude. Namely, into a vast, globalized horde of post-industrial, post-modern, debt-serfs, who must accept any sort of degrading work possible, both in order to escape the ravages of unemployment and sate the appetites of their state-finance-corporate overlords, demanding higher profits, less these newly-minted debt-serfs be rendered utterly destitute and excluded.

  1. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 164.
  2. Ibid, p. 186.
  3. See: Money Creation.
  4. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 165.
  5. Ibid, p. 165.
  6. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Ed. Martin Milligan (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc., 2007) 21.
  7. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (London, England: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 186.
  8. Ibid, p. 191.
  9. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London Eng.: Penguin, 1990) pp. 769-799.

Ensuring Justice In The Era Of Transformation

In our last article, we predicted that the 2020s will be an era of transformation.  We focused on the development of the movement since the “Take-Off” phase of the 2011 Occupy encampments, followed by Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, Idle No More, carbon infrastructure protests, debt resistance, immigration protests and more. The 2020s will be a decade when the impacts of years of mismanagement of crisis situations, such as climate change, inequality and US militarism, become unavoidable requiring major transformations. What we do now to prepare will help determine the result.

Transformative Era will be Driven by Long Neglected Issues

For many of the issues the popular movement has been raising, the government has failed to act or taken counterproductive actions, putting the profits and interests of campaign donors ahead of the necessities of people and protection of the planet. The environment is being destroyed, the food supply is being poisoned by pesticides and the wealth divide is widening.

The massive threat of climate change has become more immediate and worse. In the last year, the scientific consensus has become more dire. The impacts are upon us now wildfires and superstorms, war brought on by drought, mass migrations and deaths.

At the same time multiple analyses and government reports point to a fading US empire. Since the end of World War II, the US has dominated the globe politically, economically and militarily becoming the largest empire in world history. That era is coming to an end.

In his new book, In the Shadows of the American Century, historian and chronicler of empire Alfred McCoy writes that US empire will end in the next decade. The US is falling behind in all spheres of influence. McCoy demonstrates how US spying on foreign governments and using torture in multiple countries have undermined the US’ moral authority, as have aggressive bullying for corporation-friendly trade deals, holding back climate agreements in the Obama era and pulling out of the climate agreement in the Trump era. He chronicles the rise of China, India and Russia, among other countries. The power dynamics of the world are changing with the US being left out of important decisions while China and Russia work in tandem in more areas.

McCoy describes various scenarios for how US empire will end, depending on how the current crises play out. No matter what happens, it is up to those of us living in the US to demand the US dismantles its empire in a way that causes the least harm. Paul Street writes, “the decline of the American Empire might be a good thing for ordinary people at home as well as abroad.” Ending empire is an opportunity for changes that move us toward being a cooperative nation in a multipolar world rather than hanging on to power through military might.

The end of empire will have many repercussions. Public investment in empire has meant a lack of investment on urgent needs; e.g., repairing failing and inadequate infrastructure, rebuilding cities that have been ignored, especially in black and brown communities, strengthening education from pre-school through post-graduate, to name a handful of many inadequately-funded areas. The empire economy helped create an unfair economy at home that pushed people into poverty, debt and homelessness. To reverse those impacts, the US must shift military spending to meet civilian needs and provide funding for a new democratized economy.

System-changing Issues

The credibility of the power structure that allowed these crises to fester will shrink. On each of the issues where the people’s movement has been growing, those in power have either denied reality and done nothing or have made matters worse through counterproductive policies. Multiple crisis situations barreling toward us require mobilization for system change, not simple reforms.

The US democracy crisis is due to the corruption of money in elections, laws that prevent challenges by third parties, media that warps coverage in favor of the duopoly, gerrymandering and more. The mirage of US elections has become evident to tens of millions of people resulting in both duopoly parties being unpopular and in disarray.

System failure is also a failure of the capitalist economic system, dominated by Wall Street, monopolies and massive transnational corporations. The kleptocrats in power are looting public treasures, monetizing and profiteering off our basic necessities such as water, energy and transportation. Increasing numbers of people agree we need a new economy based on economic democracy and the Commons where key sectors are socialized and under democratic control.

In Seymour Melman and the New American Revolution, Jonathan Feldman describes Melman’s ideas for dismantling empire and capitalism and shifting economic and political power to people through worker ownership and other democratized systems.

The movement must position itself for this coming era of transition by: (1) weakening the power structure by protest of mistaken policies and building alternatives to replace them; and (2) specifically defining the transformations we want so that the power holders cannot deceive us with false measures.

Opportunities to build movement power

Economic justice: Inequality in the United States is extreme and the world’s wealthy grow obscenely richer. Three people in the US have wealth equal to half the population while millions in urban areas have zero wealthtens of millions cannot handle a surprise $500 expense and an entire generation is entering adulthood in massive debt to a job market that will keep them in debt.

Over the last 40 years, CEO pay rose 937 percent while worker compensation remained stagnant. The recent tax cuts will add to all of these problems with increased debt caused by tax cuts for the rich causing cuts to social safety net programs like Medicaid and privatizing Social Security and Medicare. An economic crash seems almost inevitable as this decade comes to a close.

National consensus on issues like taxing the rich and building the economy from the bottom up will grow, creating opportunities for new economy programs; e.g., workers owning businesses, laws ensuring a livable wage, public banks, participatory budgeting where people decide public expenditures, a guaranteed income to ensure people can meet their basic needs and other programs giving people power in the economy. Not only should the recently-passed tax cuts be repealed, but an aggressively progressive income and wealth tax should be put in place along with a financial transactions tax to shrink the wealth divide and finance essential services.

Healthcare as a public good: Health care continues to be a top issue of concern as people cannot afford necessary care. Even with insurance, the deductibles and co-pays on top of high premiums are unaffordable and tens of millions of people cannot afford any insurance. To confront the healthcare crisis, the US most move from a system dominated by profits for insurance companies, Big Pharma and providers to a system where health care is a public good with equal access for all funded by a progressive tax. National improved Medicare for all has majority support and is poised to become a litmus test issue in upcoming elections.

Internet freedom with equal access for all and independent media: The attack on net neutrality has created a massive movement and national consensus that access to the Internet should be equal for all. People recognize that the Internet is essential to participate in the economy, politics and culture, resulting in calls to nationalize the Internet. The quality of Internet service must be improved so there is high speed Internet, as exists in other developed countries. We must create an Internet for the 21st Century.

Further concentration of media is limiting access to a diversity of views. Freedom of speech in the 21st Century requires protection of political speech on the Internet not only from government but from corporations; e.g., Google and Facebook, that control social media. Laws must protect independent and social media as democracy requires diverse information and robust debate.

Confronting climate change and reversing environmental degradation: There must be a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, which will create jobs for those who install solar, wind and other clean energy sources, construct efficient transit and housing, and conduct research to develop technology needed to remake the economy. The climate crisis will impact all aspects of life, including food, farming, water management, housing and more. Energy must be democratized so people who create more energy are compensated as producers and energy is socialized through public utilities. A carbon tax will encourage the change to clean energy and provide funds for the transition.

End of empire: There will be massive shifts in the economy at home and abroad and in foreign policy as empire comes to an end. The military-security state comprises a large and decentralized sector of the US economy. A just transition to a civilian peace economy will be required. The US will no longer have the power to coerce countries into signing trade deals, an economic arm of empire, that allow the exploitation of workers, communities and the environment. A new era of trade designed to protect people and planet will become possible. New international institutions will be needed to correct the weaknesses of the United Nations and allow governance that protects human rights and economic and racial equality. Mechanisms will be required to resolve conflicts between nations peacefully.

Systemic Racism: Through all these issues, racism, a hierarchy of power that allows one group of people to dominate another, is intimately intertwined. Institutions that perpetuate racism and inequality will need to be dismantled. This is not identity politics, as some have accused, nor does it negate the suffering and oppression of poor white people. It is a reality that must be faced if we are to create new systems that do not default to disparities between groups of people. Indigenous rights and sovereignty must be respected. Reparations must be paid for generations of stolen wealth.

The Task of Insuring Justice

While transitions are inevitable, it is not inevitable they will be made based on economic, racial and environmental justice and peace. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and each other so people understand the root causes of the crises we face, build popular power and create alternative systems that have desirable results. This is not the time for reform or the belief that we just need to elect the right person. The current systems, including the electoral system, are rigged against us and we need to use popular power change them.

As Kevin Buckland writes in Roar Magazine:

If we fail to offer scalable discursive, tactical and structural alternatives to the extractivist logic that has created the climate crisis, capitalism may itself transform the coming wave of disruptions into its own benefit, exacerbating existent inequalities for every social and ecological ‘issue’ as it strengthens its stranglehold of the future on a rapidly destabilizing battleground.

Buckland focuses on the climate crisis, but the same is relevant for other crises. A crisis  provides an opportunity for change. Those who have solutions on hand and power will determine what type of change occurs.

We face formidable opponents. They have resources, money and tools that can thwart our efforts. But this is nothing new. All movements for social transformation have faced difficult odds, still they have prevailed. We outnumber our opponents and when we work together, though we may not have the money, we do have resources and tools. We also have allies.

At a recent family gathering, one of our relatives who does human rights work remarked that people in other countries feel that they should be able to vote in US elections because the US has such a significant global impact. While that isn’t going to happen, there are ways that the international community outside the US can have influence, and that is through boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This can happen at the individual level, through institutions such as universities and at the governmental level. Activists can call on their governments to target US institutions of military and economic dominance.

During the South African Apartheid, it was South African activists who called on other nations to boycott their country. This was a primary reason why apartheid ended. A decade ago, hundreds of Palestinians came together and called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. The BDS movement is having such a great effect that Israel is fighting to stop it.

And while we are reaching out to our international allies, we can share information with each other about what systems work and don’t work so that we can create the new world we need more rapidly. Collectively, we have greater wisdom than individually.

We live in a difficult time, but it is also a time of opportunities to correct our mistakes and build something better. Change is coming. As we wrote in 2011, history is knocking. We must all decide in 2018 how we will answer it.